As we have come to expect from most major manufacturers, the introduction of new features in the digital camera market necessitates an update of previous models. The same is true for Canon's latest model in the G-series. After four very successful models - there never was a G4 - it is now time for the Canon G6. As compared to the G5, Canon's latest model has gained a 7.1 effective megapixel sensor made by Sony, whereas the body has been redesigned into a more compact shape. Autofocus times have been improved and the camera now uses the 9-point AiAF system as used in most other Canon models. With a more powerful battery, a larger 2-inch LCD screen and the possibility of RAW and JPEG image formats, the camera is sure to satisfy even the most demanding photographer. Add to this the excellent image quality we have come to expect from Canon and you really can't go wrong with this one.
Using the camera
Although the body shape is now about an inch less wide than its predecessor you can't really classify the Canon G6 as a pocket-sized camera. With its beefy grip and 4x zoom lens it is still quite a substantial "beast". The mode dial has moved to the camera's back to accommodate the reduced width and is now ideally placed to control with your index finger. All other controls on the back are grouped in clusters to the right and top of the LCD screen with separate buttons for flash, drive and metering mode placed together at the top left of the camera next to the flash hot shoe. The zoom switch is located around the shutter release button with a further selection wheel just behind it. The top-mounted status LCD with all necessary image information has been retained and it can now be backlit in dark conditions by pressing the little button to its right.
With a mix of metal and high-grade plastics, the body oozes durability. Construction and ergonomics are excellent, with all controls being well placed, logically labelled with clear icons and extremely functional. The new handgrip makes it easier to hold than the G5 and the more compact shape means that - at wide angle - you no longer see the lens barrel through the optical viewfinder or record its shadow in flash pictures - an annoying shortcoming of the older design.
The f2.0-3.0, 7.2 - 28.8mm (35-140mm eq.) 4x zoom lens is identical to the one used on the PowerShot G5 and the G3 before that. Pressing the button to the lower left of the lens releases the metal ring to attach a conversion lens adapter (LA-DC58B) which in turn makes it possible to fit a wide angle or tele conversion lens - or conventional 58mm filters for that matter.
The camera is switched on by turning the on/off switch into record mode or playback mode. This button is located at the top right hand corner of the camera with a small built-in safety button to prevent accidentally turning the camera on when picking it up. We found however, that it was still all too easy to press this little safety catch while at the same time switching on the camera when putting it away in its protective pouch, thus bringing out the lens barrel and pushing away the lens cap. The off button is located on top of this switch with the AE-lock button directly below it.
Power on time is quite good at 3.5 secs. There is only slight shutter lag that can be reduced to virtually nothing if you pre-focus the camera by half-pressing the shutter release. Shot to shot time in our tests was better than average at about 1.5 secs between shots. The camera's zooming speed from wide angle to full telephoto has been shortened to 1.7 secs while autofocus speeds have been increased by up to 55% as compared to the PowerShot G5 camera. Quite a fast little number this one.
The LCD on the Powershot G6 has grown to 2.0-inch with 118,000 pixels and it's still the handy tilt-and-swivel type we have come to love from previous Canon models. It can rotate a total of 270 degrees from facing straight down to facing directly at your subject. When not in use it can be folded in so that it is protected from the elements. A great advantage of rotating LCDs is that they give you the flexibility to shoot over people's heads or take ground level shots of all kinds of subjects. Try it and you'll never want to go back.
The next item to note on the Canon G6 is the hot shoe for mounting an external flash. More and more manufacturers are including this on their various models and the Canon G6 supports several dedicated external flashes. According to the manual, when third party flashes are used - especially those with higher trigger voltages - some camera functions may not work or cause problems. Although Canon do not specify an exact maximum voltage, our experiences show that in general anything below 8 or 9 volts can be considered safe. Output of the internal flash can be adjusted over +/- 2EV for more controlled results and maximum flash sync speed is 1/250 sec.
It is clear that the Canon G6 is aimed at more advanced users as there are only three pre-programmed scene modes (portrait, night scene, landscape) and Panorama assist mode. Apart from this we have full Auto, Program AE, Shutter and Aperture priority and full Manual. There are two sets of custom settings for storing your favourite camera options - handy if you are on location and have to switch between pictures taken outside and indoor shots with fill-in flash, e.g. at a wedding.
Numerous other options can be selected and we will suffice to mention the most important ones here, such as exposure bracketing over +/- 2EV and focus bracketing. The latter is quite unusual in cameras of this class. It is used in Manual Focus mode and takes a shot at the chosen setting, plus one closer and one farther away. Apart from automatic white balance and 6 presets we have 2 custom WB settings which can be set by shooting a grey card under available lighting conditions. There is spot, centre-weighted and multi-pattern exposure metering; centre-point or 9-point AiAF focusing plus FlexiZone AF where the four way control is used to select an area in the frame from which to focus. An AF-assist light is included of course, though it should be mentioned that in low light the LCD will be too dark to make out the subject and thus is virtually unusable in those conditions.
A neutral density filter can be dialled behind the lens to effectively reduce the amount of light that reaches the sensor by about 3 stops. This Canon exclusive lets you use a larger aperture opening for less depth of field in portraits, to render the background out of focus for example, or you can set a slow shutter speed to record motion in action shots. Contrast, saturation and sharpness can be adjusted to your own liking. You can take interval shots (2 to 100 shots with intervals between 1 to 60 minutes) and first or second curtain flash is available. In all more than enough options to keep advanced users happy until way past Christmas time. We are a little surprised however, that Canon still hasn't incorporated the live histogram function into a camera of this class, seeing that most of the competition have done so for quite some time now.
In the box
Apart from the usual goodies such as USB and AV cables, neckstrap and lenscap, the Canon Powershot G6 comes with a new BP511A lithium-ion battery which is more powerful than its predecessor - the standard BP511. The included AC charger takes about 90 minutes to fully charge an empty battery. According to Canon's tests to CIPA standards, a full charge should suffice for 6 hours plus of playback time or approximately 300 pictures. From our tests we can conclude that this claim may well be true as we only ever needed to charge the battery once and we took more than 500 pictures with the Canon G6 during our test period. Canon still only include a 32Mb Compact Flash card, although with 7-megapixel file sizes in JPEG Superfine setting approaching 6Mb, this will barely get you started. For a camera of this class and at today's reasonable prices for memory cards, we would advise a card of at least 512Mb, to make sure that once you get into the swing of things you won't need to stop for a refill.
The Canon Powershot G6 supports the FAT32 format for cards larger than 2Gb and you can use both Type I and type II CF cards including Microdrives.
A wireless remote control is included together with CD-ROMs featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions V20.0, ArcSoft Camera Suite and drivers for Windows and Macintosh. A 200-page printed manual will inform you about all the options and functions the camera has to offer. As we have come to know from Canon, the manual is clearly laid out and very comprehensive, although you should expect quite a few items and notes in small print to explain the finer details of camera operation.
Included in the software package are ZoomBrowser, PhotoStitch - for "stitching" panorama photos - plus TWAIN and WIA drivers for Windows. On Mac computers running OS X 10.1 and newer, the computer automatically detects the camera and automatically launches Image Capture, which allows JPEG images to be downloaded to the Mac. For RAW files, File Viewer Utility should be used or an external card reader. Also built into the Browser software is Remote Capture, which you can use to control the camera directly from your PC via the USB (1.1) connection, while images are saved straight onto your hard drive.
With Canon being one of the leading names in today's industry, it should come as no surprise that the images delivered by the new Canon G6 are truly superb. Once again Canon have succeeded in making a good camera even better. Images taken with the by now familiar f2.0-3.0, 7.2 - 28.8mm (35-140mm eq.) Canon zoom lens are bright, sharp and properly exposed with nicely saturated colours without being over the top. Pictures taken with flash indoors show an even illumination of the subject, and if you feel the light is still too harsh you can power the flash down for a slight fill-in effect. The camera delivers very smooth images with very little noise at ISO 50 or 100 and even at ISO 400 noise is not really an issue, as images remain perfectly useable.
Distortion is kept at bay with only a little barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens that gradually disappears once you zoom in towards the tele setting. The latter shows virtually no pin cushioning at all. There is no vignetting or light loss at the edges of the image and Canon has done a good job of keeping purple fringing levels down. The automatic white balance worked well enough although sometimes it did not quite manage to suppress the "green" colour cast of fluorescent lighting. We would advise you to switch to one of the two fluorescent settings under this kind of lighting. Overall we were very pleased with the image quality of this new Canon. We are sure that if you decide to travel light and leave your bulky dSLR equipment at home for once, images taken by the Canon G6 can easily keep up with what you are used to.
The Canon Powershot G6 is a truly excellent camera. Image quality is great, handling is superb and it is full of powerful features that will be appreciated by advanced and professional photographers alike. The 7-megapixel images provide more than enough resolution to make superb A3 sized prints with nicely saturated colours and excellent detail.
However, don't buy this camera if all you ever do is take snapshots of the kids around the house, but do consider it a serious candidate if you are looking to make the most of your photography. Apart from the fact that we would have liked to see a faster USB 2.0 connection and a live histogram there is really nothing we can think of to make the camera more complete than it already is. This is a camera we liked quite a lot and would definitely recommend to the serious enthusiast. So now you finally know what to ask for Christmas . . .